By Brian M. Howle
In concluding my little mini-epic about lifeguarding at Huntington Beach State Park circa 1972-74, 1 have chosen the absolutely bestest, neato keeno thing about being a lifeguard as today’s topic:
The bikini buffet.
You can hear all the tall tales you want; you can ponder what your response would be to situations that usually result in a guy being inspired to pick up pen and paper and begin writing in ernest, “Dear Penthouse Forum;” you can scoff and cajole and be the die-hard doubting Thomas ‘til the cows come home. Nothing can prepare you for the reality of being exposed to a never-ending sea of mostly exposed flesh. Anyone who thinks they may be prone to spontaneous combustion when events trigger humongous blood pressure variations should never, ever consider this line of work.
The presence of a multitude of shapely young ladies combined with having a job that requires vigilante attention presents quite a conundrum to an eighteen to twenty year old male. (My experiences took place in the days of still-rampant sexism and inequality; there were no female lifeguards at the time, so all of my recollections are based on that premise).
For starters, your average eighteen to twenty year old male – of any generation – has an attention span roughly equivalent to that of a cocker spaniel. Put that young man on the beach for eight to ten. hours a day amid a preponderance of scantily clad young honeys, and it’s like watching a mosquito in a nudist colony – he just doesn’t know where to start.
But once he does find a place to start, well, stand back and be amazed. I know I sure was, casually listening in on my more experienced colleagues during those first few weeks. I’m still not really sure which was more perplexing to figure out – the fact that these guys could actually concoct the dialogue they piled on those girls, or the fact that the girls seemed to take the bait – hook, line and sinker.
Regardless of the techniques employed when trolling for prospective dates, there were – and still are – two questions to be asked which always had a Nostradamus-like ability to size up the evening’s itinerary: “Where are you from?”, and “How long are you going to be here?” Actually, these can be used by civilians under similar circumstances with the same results. The key is in the answer. What you wanted to hear was this: For question one, the farther away their hometown, the better; For question two, the solid lock answer was “Tomorrow.” I can’t explain why, but it seems that as that vacation time winds down, ladies are more apt to be a more giving person, in a manner of speaking.
Now, sometimes a family would pull into a campsite with a surplus of daughters, and that wasn’t all that unusual. But from time to time, we would encounter a father who seemed to want to thin out the mob at his dinner table.
One family from upstate comes to mind, comprised of three daughters. The oldest was eighteen, and a very pretty young lady; the middle girl was sixteen, and also very pretty; and the youngest was an off-limits thirteen, but without any doubt one of the most beautiful creatures we had ever seen. Some bloom earlier than others, as we all know, but this was a most exceptional instance unlike any I have ever witnessed. Annual regulars to Huntington, the two older sisters were noticeably annoyed by the constant stream of guys walking right past them to approach their “baby” sister. It was always a source of great amusement to watch the would-be suitors stroll over to this girl and strike up a conversation. It would take a minute or two, but when they eventually took their eyes of the body and looked her directly in the face, their body language screamed the realization that “it ain’t gonna happen.” The body said twenty one; the face said ten to twenty.
Her dad apparently didn’t want this girl to feel left out by her siblings, so whenever one of us dated one of the older sisters, he would ask another of us to double date with the youngest. We obliged, of course, but rest assured – we were perfect gentlemen. Hey, even a lifeguard is capable of having a conscience.
Another family that visited on a yearly basis was from central Pennsylvania. There were no battles of conscience here, though. Five daughters, including a set of twins, comprised this ready made match for the five of us. Their father made no attempt to hide his desire to marry them off as quickly as possible, in a joking sort of way. The odd part about dating one of these sisters, however, was the ritual involved when stopping by their campsite to take them out. Talk about opposite expectations – when you dated one of these girls you were expected to first sit down at the picnic table with dad for a friendly chat, whereupon dad would insist you join him for a beer; more often than not, for two. Then you were given clearance to head on out on your date. The thing was, dad brought his own beer from Pennsylvania. I don’t know if it’s still true today, but back then, beer in S.C. was known as 3.2 beer, for the percentage of alcohol. Pennsylvania beer, however, was 6.4. You didn’t have to possess a degree in quantum physics to figure out those two beers were like a six-pack of our weenie beer. We always started out of the park with great attitudes, though.
The overwhelming majority of young ladies came to the park from nearby motels or private homes where beaches or beach access didn’t exist, so dating campers was relatively infrequent. But of all our encounters, there was one involving park visitors that left an indelible mark on our memories.
One late July morning, two extended-body vans rolled into the North campsite without much fanfare and proceeded to set up for a week’s stay. Later than afternoon, all settled in, the occupants made their way out to our domain on the beach. It was like a small invasion.
We were under attack from twenty-seven lovely members of an Ohio Girl Scout troop.
Now, native ladies are wonderful creatures, just as bright and charming and beautiful as any women ever to visit our lovely South. But overall, the biggest single difference between Southern belles and Northern gals goes beyond personality.
Lordy, those Northern girls are downright aggressive.
It was fairly apparent by the end of that first day on the beach that this group of females was on a mission. And unlike most other “group” encounters, there was no “I want to go out with that one” infighting within their ranks. Nope, these gals wanted lifeguards, with no particular preference other than it had to be a lifeguard. And not one intended to go home empty handed.
Well, twenty-seven of them and five of us … you do the math. It was like an onslaught of Estée Lauder-laden locusts. Every night, we climbed up on the roof of Atalaya and watched the line of crouched, running silhouettes as they stealthily made their way to our quarters in the warm moonlight. And every morning, we found it increasingly difficult to bounce out on the beach as we were accustomed. We concluded that these young ladies were pursuing a special merit badge, the likes of which was never described in any Boy Scout handbook we had ever read. Though we never complained (yeah, like you know guys who would), on the Sunday morning when they broke camp and rolled the big vans back toward Ohio, we exhaled a collective sigh of relief.
Although content that we had proudly represented our state park system as public relations ambassadors above and beyond the call of duty, we unanimously agreed to abstain from fraternizing with any more campers for awhile.
Until that bus load of Canadians showed up Monday morning.
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, July 29, 1999.